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Whitmore Reans is one of the most ethnically diverse and deprived neighbourhoods in Wolverhampton, and in the 10% most deprived areas in England. Sitting in the shadow of Molineux Stadium, it has some of the highest crime, drug and alcohol addiction rates in the city. Fatherlessness is rife. School attendance can be low. Illiteracy plagues much of migrant community living there.
Navi Aulkh, knows this full well. Growing up in Dunstall, a one-minute walk from Whitmore Reans, she was already aware of both the area’s reputation and its potential. Yet she never expected to be spending her life praying and helping its residents to shake off the negative stereotypes associated with the area and thrive.
Growing up in a non-Christian family, Navi’s life was hijacked by God twelve years ago in a dream which led her into a relationship with Jesus, and a job as Communications Manager at her local church, All Nations Church. She had soon led several members of her family to Christ, found herself planted in a wonderful church, and enjoyed an interesting and creative job.
Things were looking very good!
However, this all changed when she attended a meeting in May 2018 with her local MP Eleanor Smith about the issues relating to gang crime in Whitmore Reans.
“I already knew what the area was like. Growing up, many of my friends lived in Whitmore Reans and everyone knew the reputation of the place,” she explains. “Yet, as I sat in that meeting listening to the things that were going on here, I felt God challenge me to respond to the needs personally.”
God remained on Navi’s case and on her walk to work each day, she started to see the poverty and needs for herself.
“I remember walking to work one morning and seeing a woman injecting herself with heroin in a phone box. God just broke my heart even more. I cried all the way to work and knew He was calling me to do something about it.”
Navi approached the leaders at All Nations and shared her heart. Several months and numerous conversations with the Eden Network followed. In the midst of it, with God’s leading, Navi left her job at All Nations as Communications Manager and started the transition.
Eventually, an Eden team was planted in Whitmore Reans in September 2019, made up of a group of 12 people from three different Wolverhampton churches – All Nations Church, Tabernacle Baptist Church and the Church of God of Prophecy, Gloucester Street. Navi soon moved into a flat in the centre of Whitmore Reans to establish a permanent presence in the area.
The purpose of any Eden team is ultimately the same, wherever it’s based: to embed themselves in a deprived community, getting to know the people there and doing life with them, sharing the good news of Jesus in word and deed along the way.
In Whitmore Reans in particular, this involves a variety of practical things including:
“The reality is, I don’t see this as a job,” explains Navi. “It’s a lifestyle, not a vocation. God has challenged me to be a ’tentmaker’, working freelance as a graphic designer so I can pay my way and live here as part of the Eden team. I don’t take a salary from the church to do what I do, as I don’t want to be paid to share Jesus with people.”
And share Jesus they do. The Whitmore Reans Eden team regularly connect with a diverse group of people, from children and teenagers, to drug addicts and alcoholics. Several of Navi’s immediate neighbours, all of them with their own history and baggage, have now come to Christ, joining her for home church every week and learning what it means to follow Jesus.
Call it the side-effects of living in my ‘Wombourne bubble’ but the burning question I couldn’t escape whilst listening to Navi share about her experiences with the kids in the gangs or resident alcoholics on her street was this: doesn’t she feel unsafe?
Her answer came without a blink.
“No, because when God calls you to do something, He provides the protection you need. I’ve known His protection as a woman throughout my time here. I’m not careless – I wouldn’t step out in the street on my own after 10pm for example – but I know there are people in the neighbourhood who look out after me and also watch over me and pray for me.”
Navi and her team are not alone in the work they do. The Eden Network provides resources to help them in the work they do, alongside annual residentials and monthly regional hub meetings to provide relational support whilst All Nations Church provides the everyday support for the team.
The work taking place in Whitmore Reans is also owned by all of the partner churches, so the team are never alone.
“We’re all about unity and working together with our partner churches which provides another layer of support,” explains Navi. “During Covid, we started a prayer meeting on Zoom to pray for the area and opened it up to people from all three of our partner churches and it has been, and still is, a huge success.”
The three partner churches have since developed a shared kingdom heart for what God is doing in the area through prayer, and as a result, have started to work together in practical ways too, including providing support for Christmas initiatives and running a shared play scheme for local children during the summer of 2021.
So what does the future look like for Whitmore Reans? Navi was quick to answer.
“We want to see disciples created in the area, not just converts, to establish a legacy that will live on through the people of Whitmore Reans. We dream of seeing an end to crime and drug and alcohol addicts set free. We want to see children fed and have a good education. We want to see the local people taking God’s heart of inner transformation and then transforming the world around them.”
Throughout our conversation, it was evident that Navi really does love this place and lives her life here through a lens of faith. Despite the deprivation statistics, she truly sees the beauty in this area as well as the potential for hope and evidence of what God has and is doing.
Please continue to pray for the work that God is doing in Whitmore Reans through the Eden team. If you’ve been challenged by anything in this article and would like to connect further with Navi to discuss the work she does or how you can get involved, please email Navi.email@example.com
 The Eden Network is a national charity, originally started in Manchester, which aims to move Christians into disadvantaged communities to do life with their neighbours, sharing the good news of Jesus in word and deed. For more information on Eden visit www.joineden.org